Guide to cycle lanes

Cycle lanes come in many different forms – the good, the bad, the ugly and sometimes the downright bizarre.

Cycle path Oxford

In recent years, the number of cycle paths in the UK have increased substantially. In theory, they have the potential to make cycling safer, more enjoyable and reduce friction between different road users. However, because of the haphazard nature of creating cycle paths, there often seems little continuity in design and implementation. It means we have cycle paths ranging from the good to downright bad and some just silly.

More than anything, we need road planners to be bolder in actually designating more space for cycle paths. We widen roads to make dual carriageways, often all we need is a couple more feet to create a really good cycle path. Also a good cycle path is much more than painting a white line on a pavement and hoping it all works out fine.

Segregated Cycle Paths

Bi directional cycle path enables commuters to avoid crossing road and congestion.

This cycle path is separate from the road. It doesn’t conflict with pedestrians and is wide enough for dual way. This is an ideal cycle path for an inner city path. It is the kind of path which would encourage a huge range of new people to start cycling.

photo Joe Ahearn (link)

Turning one way streets into one way (car) and bicycles the other way.

Counter flow cycle path in Dublin. Clearly segregated.

Integrated cycle lanes

The easiest cycle lane is to put a dotted white line on a road. This serves as a ‘guide’ for motorists and cyclists.


A narrow advisory cycle lane


This is a relatively narrow cycle path on a road. The benefits of this kind of cycle path is:

  • Increase cyclists’ comfort and belonging on the carriageway.
  • Enables cyclists to pass stationary traffic in traffic jams.
  • Makes cars more aware that cyclists may be using roads.

Potential Problems

  • Cyclists may be encouraged to move on the inside of moving cars and lorries which could be dangerous if vehicles veer inward or turn left.


  • Anecdotal evidence suggests cycle lanes may encourage cars to pass closer to cyclists because they feel that as long as their vehicle is not in the cycle lane, they can get closer.

My Experience

Overall, I support this kind of cycle lane. It is usually better than nothing. More than anything it reminds drivers of our right to be on road. At peak time, roads are frequently congested, and this makes it easier to pass stationary traffic. However, I am aware of their limitations. Just because there is a cycle path to left of road, doesn’t mean I will always risk undertaking. You have to use your common sense.

It depends on the road. I’m keener on cycle lanes in city centres than on the open road.

Cycle Paths of Limited Use


This is the kind of cycle path I don’t tend to use. I don’t use it because

  • It is narrow and shared with slow moving pedestrians
  • Every 100 metres you have to give way to cars turning left or right.
  • Basically it is a cycle path with continual obstacles.

In its defence, many other cyclists still prefer using this disjointed shared use cycle path rather than using the main road. If I cycled very slowly, I may prefer the same.  But, I’m just glad this kind of cycle path is not compulsory. Perhaps it is better than nothing as cyclists get a choice depending on their preferences.

Poor Cycle Paths


This is the bottom of a steep hill. On a bike you can go down at 30 mph. But, then have to slam on the brakes because the road is narrowed to the width of one car. In theory, there is a cycle path to the left, but it is lost in the undergrowth. Even if they cut it back, there are lots of sharp stones from the fields.


To slow down speeding motorists, traffic calming measures have been installed so there is only room for one car to pass. It is a bit annoying because it creates friction, when instead a cycle path could be installed for cyclists like this below.

Traffic calming with space for cyclist. Though ironically for this pic, the cyclists didn’t use the cycle filter!

Rules on Using Cycle lanes

63 Cycle Lanes. These are marked by a white line (which may be broken) along the carriageway (see Rule 140). Keep within the lane when practicable. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer. Multi-lane carriageways (133-143)

For Car users:

This is a rare example of a cycle lane designated by a solid white line. To reinforce the no-parking rule, there are double yellow lines too.

Cycle lanes. These are shown by road markings and signs. You MUST NOT drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a solid white line during its times of operation. Do not drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a broken white line unless it is unavoidable. You MUST NOT park in any cycle lane whilst waiting restrictions apply. Multilane Carriageways

Mandatory cycle lanes seem quite rare, unless they are on double yellow lines.

Cycle lanes and car doors


You have to be careful about using cycle paths which are in the range of a car door. This is in Queens, New York. I always cycle far out to the left to avoid being ‘doored’. Which means hugging the left hand of the cycle lane. It’s a fine balancing act! (see: Car doors and cycle paths)

Shared Use Cycle Paths


  • Shared use paths – when cyclists are allowed to go on pavements that have been marked for shared use.
  • Unless paths are marked it is illegal to cycle on the pavement. (See cycling on the pavement)
  • Sometimes pedestrians and cyclists may be segregated by single white line.

One of the biggest complaints about cyclists is when they use the pavement. Many pedestrians (especially old people feel uncomfortable when people cycle on the pavement. Shared use paths often aggravate this by taking a pavement and painting a white line on as a shared use cycle path. Where possible I tend to avoid these. Unless it cuts a corners, makes journey quicker or is much safer. When using it I do remember pedestrians should be given priority and go slow.

You have to be just as careful on shared use pavements because cars will be turning left and right into your path

But, also I’m not keen on shared use cycle paths because pedestrians have been my biggest cause of accidents. On three occasions I have been knocked off in shared use cycle paths because pedestrians suddenly change direction without looking. I wasn’t going fast, but it’s something you have to be aware of.

However, although people often worry about accidents, the number of reported accidents is quite low (Buckinghamshire County Council, link). Also accidents tend to be minor rather than major

Short Cycle Paths

Short cycle paths are often quite bizarre and appear all other the place.

cycle paths
There are quite a few entries for competition of shortest cycle path.


Photo by Phil D, flickr

Parking in Cycle paths

A major limitation of cycle paths is that they often have obstacles in them. Interesting post at Birmingham Cyclist on how to stop cars parking illegally in cycle lanes. [link]


Integration of Cycle Paths

A key issue with cycle paths is are they integrated with paths and roads. Often a cycle path is designed and it goes straight into a parked car or fades away when you need it most.
Cycling Bristol

Cycle path in Bristol

Cycling Oxford
Cycle path abruptly ends, making it difficult to join a narrow road of fast moving traffic.

Is it compulsory to use cycle paths?

In the UK, it is not compulsory for cyclists to use cycle lanes. The Highway code states: Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer – Rules on Using cycle lanes

Sometimes I will choose not to use cycle lanes – especially if they are half a pavement. I don’t think it is appropriate to be sharing pavement with pedestrians. But, you will tend to get some angry motorist that you are on the road.  It can feel like caught between two rocks – the pedestrian is annoyed you are on the shared use pavement or the motorist annoyed you’re on the road. But, I just use common sense and choose most suitable place to cycle. If people get annoyed because they sometimes have to slow down for a few seconds, it is just their impatience.

National Cycle Network

The national cycle network. A combination of custom cycle paths, quiet roads and scenic traffic free paths.


Some cycle paths are very scenic and a real joy to ride. Hopefully the network will continue to grow. They encourage beginner cyclists, nervous of using roads to get started.  This is wide enough to allow cyclists and pedestrians to mix.


Cycle lane or pedestrian lane. No one takes notice of sign, but a great cycle path.


A good cycle path by side of busy A40 dual carriegeway.cycle-path-grass-verge-oxford

Another path by A40. If only all major roads could have paths like this…

Having a Laugh?


from Warrington Cycle lane facility of the month! [thanks to Pete for reuse of photo]

Feel free to post your favourite cycle facility in comments!

Photos of Cycle paths around the world


Belgian cycle path to take cyclists over a big roundabout.

dutch cycling path
Holland – where else. Photo Dnet
Big cycle paths in the Lake District, but not too much practical use (Ambleside)
Cycle lane in Cambridge – which has highest rate of cycling in UK



10 thoughts on “Guide to cycle lanes”

  1. One of the worst shared use cycle paths in Oxford is on the London road on the way out through Headington. After all the recent disruption of resurfacing the road they’re painting one on the other side where you used to be able to ride in the bus lane without risking the ire of the motorists. Such a shame.

  2. “the most obvious differences they discovered was that the Dutch cycle on the right rather than the left” – I don’t get this part. Surely since the Dutch drive and cycle on the right, and in the UK you drive and cycle on the left, there should be no difference? Or were they hinting at driving on the right being in general better for some phisiological reason? That would surprise me.
    The link unfortunately goes to some “facility of the month” page, which probably has changed, so it doesn’t give me any help in understanding.

  3. “This is the kind of cycle path I don’t tend to use. ”

    I wonder how often you cycle with small children (either on their own bikes or on a child seat on your bike). I found in that situation suddenly shared-use pavement cycle paths become very appealing. Not ideal, but better than the alternatives available.

    What a shame we are (almost) always given the choice between two crappy alternatives. Share with the drivers and their buses and lorries, or share with the pedestrians. And inevitably either party will become annoyed at my presence as I “get in the way”.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to have one clear high-quality option for a change…

  4. Definitely, cyclists should be given a separate and well developed cycling lane. A cycler could be anyone, a perfectionist, a newy or even a child. Such separate lanes would make the cyclist feel safer, especially the kids. Also, the lanes should be well connected with each and every rod, circle or turn. Sufficient space should be provided for the 2-way cyclers. There should be no choice between any alternatives. Cycling lanes are a must. Safety comes first for everyone!

  5. I agree Cyclists should have a safe place to ride.
    But don’t forget the pedestrians, when council’s decision turn a pavement into a shared space the pedestrians have to get out of the way of cycles most times, not to mention cyclists riding silently up behind a person quite often at speed, making them jump but going past close enough to catch their cloths on the handlebars.
    Councils also put cycle paths on pavements making the pedestrians walk in single file as their share is so narrow.
    So don’t forget the pedestrians.

  6. Agreed, cyclists are so rude to pedestrians and aren’t always right about the rights of pedestrians, or if they are correctly on a path for pedestrians and cyclists. And don’t start me on the dreaded ping of their bells!


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